Kingston University London’s Town House, Engineered by Hanif Kara’s AKT II and Designed by Grafton Architects, Wins 2021 Stirling Prize

Hanif Kara’s 2021 Stirling Prize winning project
2021 Stirling Prize winner, Kingston University London’s Town House. Designed by Grafton Architects. Engineered by AKT II. (Photo by Ed Reeve)

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has awarded Kingston University London’s Town House the 2021 Stirling Prize. Currently in its 25th year, the Stirling Prize is RIBA’s most prestigious award. It is given annually to a new building in the United Kingdom considered to have made a significant contribution to the discourse of architecture in the past year.

Structural engineering for the Town House was provided by AKT II, the global firm co-founded in 1996 by Professor in Practice of Architectural Technology Hanif Kara. The building was designed by Dublin-based architecture firm Grafton Architects. Founders Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara held the GSD Kenzo Tange Chair in 2010. Last year, Grafton Architects won the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the RIBA Gold Medal.

Interior courtyard space of the building.
Town House has a public forum, a library, a dance studio and theatre.

Town House is described as a welcoming and transparent public place. It celebrates and encourages human encounters with large public terraces, wide staircases, and open-plan study areas that look across dance studios and performance spaces. Speaking for the Stirling Prize jury, Lord Norman Foster describes the building as “a theatre for life—a warehouse of ideas. It seamlessly brings together student and town communities, creating a progressive new model for higher education, well deserving of international acclaim and attention. In this highly original work of architecture, quiet reading, loud performance, research, and learning can delightfully coexist. That is no mean feat.”

The project marks the fourth time since 2000 that AKT II has been honored with the Stirling Prize. Previous wins include the Peckham Library and Media Centre in 2000, the University of Cambridge Sainsbury Laboratory in 2012, and the Bloomberg Headquarters in 2018. As design director at AKT II, Kara follows a “design-led” approach in his practice. His interest in formal innovation, materiality, sustainability, and complex analytical methods have allowed him to work on multiple groundbreaking projects and address many of the challenges facing our built environment.

In 2018, Kara spoke with Travis Dagenais about the research, engineering, and collaboration behind the Stirling Prize-winning Bloomberg headquarters in London.